No More Emotional Distancing

“How are you and your family doing?”  I’m asked. I catch myself. Before the words come out of my mouth on auto-pilot, I take a pause and think about how I want to actually answer this.  I’m in the grocery line, and, usually, I would answer automatically: “We’re all doing great!” Then I’d put on my best ‘Windex’ smile and, just as automatically ask how they are?  But this situation is different. What I mean by different is that I’m standing in line at the local market, which is completely packed at 2:15 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon.  

Everyone is smiling (if a bit stiffly) at each other, making small talk, and we all pretend not to notice we’re all keeping an uncomfortable distance of roughly two to three feet from each other in line. For good reason.  We’re in the middle of a pandemic. There isn’t one of us that isn’t feeling some fear, uncertainty, and wondering how long this is all going to have to last. How long am I not going to be able to shake hands with somebody I’ve known for years? How long until I can openly hug my favorite teacher or someone I know when I run into them on the street or in a store?  When am I not going to have to worry about washing my hands after my own kid comes into the house and I give them a full hug? How long will my job hold up, or until I’m working with a group of people face to face again, instead of having to call in from home?.  

So yeah.  I caught myself.  Because here’s one of the few times when I’ve actually gotten to see people in the last week, and talk to another human being face to face who isn’t a member of my household, and yet, I was about to put out a toothy grin and an automatic “everythings peachy” diatribe.  Why? Honestly…probably because I don’t want to show how I’m really feeling. I don’t want to be perceived as though this has affected me emotionally or my family in some way. None of us do. It feels like weakness to us–although nothing could be further than the truth… We’ve all been emotionally programmed to armor up.  And the more difficult the situation? The more armor.  

What we have is an emotional pandemic, and unfortunately it has been around a lot longer than a really uncertain and scary week.  What I mean is that most of us during our lives, especially as we’ve grown older, have been giving as little of ourselves emotionally as possible–as little emotional exposure as we can.  We have traded true connections with others for pleasantries. Courage and heart-felt communication for politeness. Truly getting to know each other for social skills. It is much more globally acceptable, and a heck of a lot safer, than sharing our real feelings and concerns with someone.  This could either leave us connecting or hurt us emotionally. The problem is, we don’t get to know which it will be when we’re wearing the armor.

No one is twisting an evil mustache around this, meaning, it’s not on purpose.  When we were kids, we were emotionally authentic with each other. Fully trusting, giving, and vulnerable.  We would cry, get hurt, get up, let you know about it, then move through it and trust again. We fully gave of ourselves to one another, stayed with one another when we got hurt, and stayed open to all of our experiences together.  There was a shared understanding that grown-ups didn’t understand us, school sucked, other kids were mean sometimes. And we fully understood that it didn’t mean that couldn’t change the following week and the so-called “mean kids” may then be our friends.  We were fully united in our mutual understanding that we would and could get hurt whether it be in kickball, a true spanking from one of our parents (or a neighbor, it was allowed back then 🙂 who were the out to get us (so we thought), or a close friend betraying us to hang out at somebody else’s house after school.  We fully understood the risks of being exposed and honest with our emotions, and that wasn’t going to stop us from living.

“Doing the best we can, We’re actually pretty thrown by everything.”  I said. The people in line with me nodded their heads, smiling. Not a happy smile, but a knowing one.  “Yeah, about the same in my house.” the person asking me said in response. A woman further back blurted out that she had the car keys from her ‘Millennial-son’ to stop him from going out to a party where he swore everyone attending had been checked for the Coronavirus.  Just about everybody in earshot laughed. People started talking with each other. Real talk about what was going on. Nothing had changed. The virus was still an unknown. We were still scared, uncertain, and angry. But now we weren’t alone. We were feeling it together.